It’s Time to Fix Our Flood Insurance

For a country facing rising sea levels and more storms due to climate change, our National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is woefully inadequate, even though it is the primary solution to the flood problem. In recent years, the NFIP has effectively—if inadvertently—failed to discourage people from moving to flood-prone areas, and has pursued policies that benefit white, wealthy people.

Joel Scata, attorney for NRDC’s Healthy People & Thriving Communities program. “The program must be re-approved and amended so that the regions of the country can be prepared.”

Here’s a breakdown of why NFIP is so important in the first place, how it got into this mess, what steps it’s taking to prepare itself, and what will still need to be done as the world moves toward a warmer future (and often). .

Risk of flooding during the monsoon season

It’s an indisputable fact: The temperature of the oceans and the variability of the rainfall are causing floods to occur more frequently. For people living along lakes, rivers, or other bodies of water, this is a real threat. Hurricanes have the power to destroy homes and uplift lives. And for people who live in urban areas, even those far from rivers or lakes, flooding from stormwater runoff can also be dangerous.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the NFIP, areas at risk of flooding add it and 55 percent in the eastern seaboard, and 45 percent in its major rivers, by 2100. Another recent study predicts that the number of US households at risk of experiencing a 100 years of flooding—which means that such a fatal accident has a 1 percent chance of occurring each year—will increase from 14.6 million today to 16.2 million (and possibly more) by 2050.

Despite this, prospective homeowners continue to move forward to coastal and riverine areas, which effectively raises the value of properties that are vulnerable to flooding. In the next few decades, he says 4 million to 13 million many people will be living in flooded homes along the coast—and we’re not even counting the number of people who are at risk along our waterways. FEMA expects the number of people eligible to purchase NFIP insurance along the coast to increase by 130 percent by the end of the century.

New Orleans, August 2005

What NFIP did right—and where NFIP went wrong

When the NFIP was established in 1968, it represented a major role for flood victims. Private insurers often balked at underwriting flood risks, so the government stepped in. By providing a government-backed flood insurance policy-and eventually requiring homeowners in floodplains to buy into the program-streamlined flood recovery plan. Through his insurance payments, the homeowners began to contribute to the cost of rebuilding; in return, aid was immediately available after the flood to those who purchased aid.

Through the NFIP, FEMA also took responsibility for creating flood hazard maps, which help inform the public about low-lying areas that are more likely to experience flooding. The organization wanted people to follow the building and zoning laws by using the established development methods that would help the buildings to survive the floods. If communities want their residents to be able to purchase flood insurance, they should follow these standards, along with flood maps, to guide future decisions.

But there was also no consideration of how the flood risk would change in the future. And throughout the program, there was a feeling that the future would look the same as the past. The building and land use standards that people must meet in order to purchase NFIP insurance have not been significantly changed since the 1970s. These old rules, which were enacted years before climate change, “are failing to protect our communities, and will continue to do so because of climate change.” it’s causing flooding,” says Scata.

In 2021, NRDC and the Association of State Floodplain Managers jointly asked FEMA to update its standards to reflect the new climate. Among the demands of the petition were that all new or improved buildings be raised above the 100-year flood; that all new and revised NFIP maps show how floodplains will change over time, particularly with respect to sea level rise; and that homeowners who want to refinance their homes will have easier access to NFIP financing.

Flood risk – past and present

In the past, the NFIP provided large amounts of money to pay for certain flood-prone buildings. This had the unfortunate effect of masking the real risk faced by homeowners, as the cost of payments did not accurately reflect the likelihood of a flood and the demand for payment. In addition, floodplain maps and other data collection methods used by the NFIP to identify areas at risk make little, if any, distinction based on location (for example, near a river vs. a mile away from one. ) or facilities. their building materials (for example, building and wood). By subtracting the reward value from the risk, the program is complete incentives—rather than weakening—the placement of houses in very dangerous places for many years. And by painting many houses with the same brush as the actuarial, it has effectively built an inconsistent practice.

Today, the NFIP covers more than five million policyholders in 23,000 communities across the country, providing $1.3 trillion in benefits. But the structural problems that have dogged the program for years—and are only getting worse because of climate change—have brought the NFIP to a crossroads. Therefore, the program has decided to make a real change, which calculates the risk of flooding and interprets and shares information about flooding. If implemented correctly, the new NFIP process, which it mentioned Risk Level 2.0it should help to eliminate the imbalance of the program.

One of the biggest changes: Flood insurance will now be priced based on the unique characteristics of each home and property—including its elevation, proximity to water, and total cost of rebuilding—not just its location on a valley map. FEMA is also upping its game in technology and data collection, including the latest developments in disaster modeling and engineering science. By improving its ability to predict when, where, and how a flood will affect communities and the buildings within it, FEMA aims to make the NFIP more equitable and strengthen the mitigation side of its core mission.

The water line showing the height of the flood waters in San Antonio, May 2013

© San Antonio Express-News/

After decades of being presented with a tragically distorted picture of the risk they faced, policyholders now have a better understanding of their vulnerability and how to mitigate it. And by revising flood maps and including fees to match housing needs, the NFIP hopes to eliminate a system that often benefits vulnerable populations at the expense of disadvantaged or vulnerable populations.

Risk Rating 2.0 “should make flood insurance better” in most cases, Scata says. “Expensive coastal housing will no longer be subsidized by affordable and risk-free housing.” And about 20 percent of policyholders will pay less under the new plan. However, he says, the cost of homeowners insurance is still out of reach for many. “Increasing prices means that some of the people who may need flood insurance cannot afford it,” he says. “Congress should act to create a means-tested flood insurance policy that helps low-income families purchase flood insurance, and that prioritizes those same families for flood relief.”

And, Scata adds, “FEMA must act quickly to ensure that these standards are able to handle today’s flooding.” and about the future. Because climate change can’t wait.”

How to prepare your home for a flood

Here are some things you can do if you are concerned about your home’s flood risk.

  • Start by visiting floodsmart.govNFIP website, for more information on flood maps, flood costs, and how to get flood insurance.
  • Make a plan. The difference between being prepared and unprepared for a flood is often the difference between losing a few things and losing everything.
  • Buy insurance. Although the NFIP has its problems, it is a good idea to buy insurance if your home is at risk. Anyone with a mortgage who lives in a high-risk area is required by law to carry it—but even if you live outside of the same home, or rent your home, it’s a good idea to research the benefits of purchasing a policy that covers the specific risk of your home. People who live outside flood-prone areas make up more than 20 percent of all flood insurance. If possible, landlords should also obtain insurance for storm storage that might flood their basements (which the NFIP only offers a very limited, limited coverage), and renters can purchase flood insurance that will cover items in their rental properties.
  • Raise it any equipment—heaters, central air conditioners, and other HVAC equipment—that are located in the basement of your home and are at risk of flooding. Moving them to a platform even a few meters away can protect them from damage—or even destruction—in the event of a flood.
  • Consider setting up a by stopping the shower-sometimes called a sewer backwater preventer or sewer backwater valve – to keep sewage from backing up into your basement.
  • Understanding the different ways to deal with risk-and talk about change in your area.

This article was originally published on July 13, 2017, and has been updated with new information and links.

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